The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opened its 2021-2022 season with two concerts, one program for both on October 29 and 30.

Suspend is a 20-minute fantasy for piano and orchestra that pianist Emanuel Ax commissioned from composer Andrew Norman. Intended to sound like an improvisation Suspend asks of its audience to temporarily set aside all expectations of how concert music should sound.

Melody, rhythm, and contrapuntal complexity are set aside, suspended –as the title of the work implies – their place taken by seemingly random strains of sound, first from the piano, later from the orchestra. The effect is calming and mysterious. Pianist Drew Petersen effectively took the piano part.

The F-A-E Sonata was a collaborative effort conceived by Robert Schumann as homage to the violinist Joseph Joachim. Johannes Brahms and Albert Dietrich each took one movement, with Schumann taking the other two. Brahms used the notes F, A, and E, a musical cryptogram based on the German motto Frei Aber Einsam (Free but alone) to construct the movement assigned to him. CSO’s Stefani Matsuo played with verve, with Drew Petersen at the piano providing energetic support, both earning warm applause from the audience.

Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F majorbears the opus number ninety, which indicates that it is a mature work that comes years after several of the composer’s great works, notably the violin concerto, the two piano concertos, the symphonies nos. 1 and 2, and the Academic Overture.

The Symphony No. 3 in F majoris divided into four movements: an opening Allegro, a second Andante, a third Allegretto in C minor, and a closing Allegro that goes back and forth between major and minor in tonality and, by extension in mood. What opened as restless in tone, transitions into a temporarily calm second movement that gives preference to the woodwinds as if to convey a sense of tranquility after the stormy motions of the opening Allegro. But then and unexpectedly Brahms thrusts the music into the C minor sadness of the third movement. The final movement takes a surprisingly tempestuous path that eventually leads to an unexpected quiet ending.

Warmly welcomed by a capacity audience Louis Langrée and the rank and file of the CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA excelled throughout this opening concert in music making of the highest order auguring a season yet to come filled with great music.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, after the play La dame aux camélias of Alexandre Dumas II

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House during June of 2009

Director: Richard Eyre

Designer: Bob Crowley

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Royal Opera Chorus conducted by Antonio Pappano

Violetta: Renée Fleming  Alfredo: Joseph Calleja Giorgio Germont: Thomas Hampson

It has been said that the role of Violetta was created by Verdi for three different sopranos: a lyric coloratura for Act I who can impeccably dispatch all the runs and trills in Sempre libera. For Act II it seems that Verdi had in mind a heftier voice, perhaps the same soprano that would comfortably sing some of the other Verdi “big girl” roles.

The final act finds Violetta in the final stages of – to put it bluntly – pulmonary failure, so that not much lung power is required of the soprano lined up to sing the role of Violetta, other than for the outburst “Gran Dio, morir si giovine!”

All of this goes to say that in Renée Fleming we have the ideal three-in-one soprano, and, for our money, the finest Violetta in the business at the time when, at age fifty she sang the role at Covent Garden.

Everything was there from Ms. Fleming for this performance: vocal flexibility, absolute command of the text, the uncanny ability to color the voice for every possibly different moment: giddily girlish and sexily playful in Act I, simultaneously tough and vulnerable in the encounter with Germont, utterly heartbreaking in the final act. Oh and it certainly does not hurt the performance that Ms. Fleming is gorgeous to look at, lady-like, elegant in bearing… And, finally, what an actress! From the start of the opera we see a woman in love with life and yet cognizant that her days are numbered.

Director Richard Eyre worked well with all three of his principals, drawing unmannered performances from both Joseph Calleja as Alfredo and Thomas Hampson as Giorgio Germont. Unfortunately Calleja is not the ideal Alfredo, his bearing and manner much too gruff and coarse for the part, s when he all but throws Annina out the door. And his singing is good at full volume, deficient in the much needed lyricism for Un di felice and Parigi, o cara.

Thomas Hampson in Traviata and, elsewhere in this collection Simon Keenlyside in Macbeth both seem to be go-to baritones in London for the Verdi roles usually associated with larger, darker, Italianate voices.

Hampson, a fine artist ideally suited to other roles, here seems vocally ill at ease. His Di provenza and the following cabaletta lie uncomfortably high for him, the climactic moments in the duet with Violetta make him resort to wide open, frankly unattractive-sounding vowels in the upper range. His being cast in this crucial role sadly brings down the overall level of the performance.

Antonio Pappano is a solid conductor who here once again draws musical magic from his orchestra, chorus and principals.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Oscar Shumsky plays Brahms Violin Concerto

American violinist Oscar Shumsky has been hailed as one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. Leopold Stokowski called him “the most astounding genius I have ever heard.”

This recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 is the last recording Shumsky ever made.

Made in 1984 with the Philharmonia Hungarica with Uri Segal conducting, when the violinist was 71 years old, this complete performance digital recording just released by BIDDULPH RECORDINGS had remained forgotten for over three decades.

Noble, elegant, devoid of the dash and flash so prevalent these days, Shumsky’s music-making is impassioned but never overdoing the emotion, playing with a warm heart and a cool brain.

His is a performance that belongs to a grand old era no longer with us.

Rafael de Acha        ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Rossini’s musically sinful old age

At the age of 37, having just had a huge success in Paris with his Guilhaume Tell in spite of one of the hottest summers ever, Gioacchino Rossini hung his operatic hat and never wrote another stage work. Instead he lived the good life, eating well, drinking vintage wines, and hosting musical soirees for his many friends. For these events he composed dozens of miniature works for all sorts of vocal and instrumental combinations, none longer than ten minutes in length, which he called Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age).

In the box set of thirteen discs Péchés de vieillesse NAXOS CLASSICS has assembled a group of Rossini interpreters, led by Italian pianist Alessandro Marangoni and accompanied the music-making with an informative booklet, all with terrific results.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Marin Alsop conducts Hindemith

The powerfully violent imagery of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald and specifically the story of that artist’s struggles for freedom of expression during the turmoil of the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525 paralleled composer Paul Hindemith’s own struggles as the Nazis repressed his 1935 opera Mathis der Maler with its expressions of disdain for any and all forms of censorship.

Absurdly labeled pro-Jewish and entarte (degenerate) Hindemith’s works could not find an artistic venue in his home country, forcing him to seek greener pastures in German-speaking, neutral Switzerland, where his Mathis der Maler had its world premiere in 1938 in Zurich.

Early in his career Hindemith dabbled in Expressionism, a time from which come his early career operas Sancta Susanna and Nusch-Nuschi. As Hindemith matured he developed his own compositional aesthetic, which he termed Objectivism, its largely tonal language a departure from the atonality of his earlier works.

In the Naxos-Classics album of Hindemith works, the ever curious, always incisive Marin Alsop leads the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien in idiomatic performances of vocal and instrumental selections from Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Sancta Susanna and Nusch-Nuschi.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


Music by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano

Director: Richard Jones

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, led by Antonio Pappano

Principal roles:

Schicchi – Lucio Gallo

Lauretta – Ekaterina Siurina

Rinuccio – Francesco Demuro

Zitta – Elena Zilio

Simone – Gwynne Howell

Betto – Jeremy White

Marco – Robert Poulton

Ciesca – Marie McLaughlin

Gherardo – Alan Oke

Nella – Lisa Anne Robinson

The Royal Opera House Gianni Schicchi would have made Puccini very happy. Recently released as part of the Royal Opera collection of 18 productions on DVD, this one dating back to 2011, gives the 1918, one-act, 60-minute- long comic gem inspired stage direction of Richard Jones, superb conducting by Antonio Pappano, and a brilliant cast led by Italian baritone Lucio Gallo in the title role.

Everything in this modern dress take on Puccini’s madcap romp coalesces into musical and dramatic perfection including a production design that elevates tackiness to an art form, with a set design by John Macfarlane and costume design by Nicky Gillebrand.

The tech aspects of both video and sound are tops.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Royal Opera Macbeth

Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave, after the play by William Shakespeare

In a live recording at the Royal Opera House made on June 13, 2011

A Royal Opera Collection recording

Conductor: Antonio Pappano

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Designer: Anthony Ward

Macbeth – Simon Keenlyside

Lady Macbeth – Liudmyla Monastyrska

Banquo – Raymond Aceto

Macduff – Dimitri Pittas

From the instrumental introduction that precedes the first chorus of witches to the finale of the opera, Pappano’s is a fully informed realization, attentive to details of dynamics and orchestration, ever attuned to the needs of singers, both energetic and sensitive. The London cast is all-business, committed to the work at hand, musically accurate…If only the vocal accomplishments of the key principals measured up to Verdi’s expectations!

Of course nobody knows exactly what the composer of this masterful work had in mind, but one can surmise, based on the vocal writing for the two principal leads what should be expected. From the baritone who is to sing the title role it is fair to expect a dark Italianate sound, plenty of heft, a strong top voice, and, of course a gift for making the Piave text come to life. Think of Milnes, Warren, Željko Lučić…

Simon Keenlyside is a wonderful singer, a superb lyric baritone unexcelled in roles like Hamlet, Rossini’s Figaro, Mozart’s Count Almaviva, Wozzeck, Billy Budd… At age 61 it is fair to expect Keenlyside to graduate to more mature roles: Germont should be a natural fit for him, Verdi’s Ford, even Don Giovanni should provide a good vehicle for his lean and bright voice. But Macbeth, long the property of Verdi specialists simply lies beyond the reach of this fine English baritone.

Then there is the Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, a fine singer who can sing all the notes in the demanding role of Lady Macbeth. But merely being able to sing all the notes in this killer role will not do. Beyond that lies bringing to the part the sort of dramatic commitment that great interpreters of the role have brought to it. A long line of Lady Macbeth’s precede Monastyrska: Grace Bumbry,  Maria Guleghina, Shirley Verrett, Sondra Radvanovsky… all terrific singing actress none of whom would have been caught dead doing the sort of eye rolling, silent movie posturing to which Monastyrska resorts again and again. Pitty, for in the sleepwalking scene Monastyrska sings and acts up a storm!

In the supporting roles of Banquo and Macduff, bass Raymond Aceto and tenor Dimitri Pittas impress: Aceto delivering a sonorous Come dal ciel precipita and Pittas wonderful in his address to the Scottish people Dalla paterna mano.

Director: Phyllida Lloyd handles the crowd scenes well, less so in the work with the individual singers, who are all too often left to their devices. The production design is fair, heavy on the metallic, vague in defining locale.The video and sound engineering are faultless and, it goes without saying, the contribution of a collection of sixteen operatic productions on video is a magnificent addition to the archives of 20th and 21st operatic productions.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).  

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

A conversation with Evans Mirageas

A conversation with Evans Mirageas gave us a glimpse into what makes him, now in his seventeenth season at the helm of the Cincinnati Opera, one of the most well liked individuals in the Opera world.

Evans, as he prefers to be called celebrates just having had his contract extended by the Cincinnati
Opera by five more years, and being “tied at the hip” to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a top-notch philharmonic ensemble that becomes the de-facto deluxe pit orchestra for the Cincinnati Opera during the summer months.

We began by asking him to give us a hint as to what are his repertory plans for the next several seasons. While cautiously not revealing anything that lies outside the eighteen month parameter for announcing repertory and casting, Mirageas spoke enthusiastically about “embracing the tradition” with a long-standing commitment to the popular canon of Verdi, Puccini, and some French Opera.

Along with that artistic philosophy, Mirageas supports the development of new works by American composers, so that the Cincinnati Opera will regularly co-produce with other American opera companies new works that are staged in the intimate Corbett Theatre of Cincinnati’s School for Visual and Performing Arts.

That balance of old and new continues into the 2021-2022 season, when the company will bring back Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s La boheme, its first Gilbert and Sullivan in over thirty years – The Pirates of Penzance – and two world premieres: William Menefield’s and Sheila Williams’ Fierce, and Castor and Patience, with music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Tracy K. Smith.

Both Fierce and Castor and Patience deal with the vicissitudes of African-Americans. Both will employ a large number of artists of color in their casts and creative teams.

Evans Mirageas mentioned his wide-ranging interest in operas that speak of the struggles of minority communities and of his desire to identify in the near future one or more works that will celebrate much needed to be told joyful stories that speak of the achievements of the brown and black populations segments of our society.

A self-described “passionate auditioner” Evans Mirageas attends dozens of operatic performances, sits in judges panels for vocal competitions, and keeps a close watch on up and coming opera singers, many of whom he has groomed into larger roles in his company.

Among those is the young tenor Matthew White, who stepped in on very short notice into the title male role of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, scoring a big success a couple of seasons back. White returns this season in the role of Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance – the first ever G & S in the company’s history.

Nurturing artists is second nature to Mirageas. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi, first impressed as one of the leads in Fellow Travelers, later to return as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro. Like him there are many others, including Morris Robinson, who is remembered from an early appearance as the Night Watchman in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg before a well-earned rise up to major roles, such as Porgy in Porgy and Bess.

Interviewing Evans Mirageas, one of the most respected men in the music business, is as easy as chatting with a like-minded friend – so easy is his manner and so generous is he with his time. For that graciousness we thank him and wish him in operatic tradition “In bocca al lupo.”


Kiri Te Kanawa as Strauss’ Marschallin

36 years ago the Royal Opera House assembled a top-notch cast to star in a production of Richard Strauss’ Comedy-in-Music Der Rosenkavalier.

The cast chosen for the occasion was led by Kiri Te Kanawa, then at age 41 at the very top of her prime as the Marshallin. English mezzo-soprano Anne Howells was the Octavian, the American Barbara Bonney sang the role of Sophie, and Danish bass Auge Augland was the Baron Ochs.

The production – elegant to a fault – was directed by John Schlesinger, with scenery by William Dudley and costumes by Maria Bjornson.

The Royal Opera Chorus and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House were led by Georg Solti.

Now Opus Arte has re-released a DVD of the production, and the results are just fine.

As the aging Marschallin, Kiri Te Kanawa looks anything but superannuated, ravishing in a variety of gowns, coiffed within an inch of her stage life, and singing like a goddess come to earth. The scene between her and Octavian that ends Act I becomes in her hands a thing of wonder, and much of the Straussian recitative that threatens to wear a little thin as its stretches for minutes on end is handled by her so gracefully that it becomes as melodic as anything the composer ever wrote. The trio that she shares with her colleagues Howells and Bonney towards the end of the opera is a sung gem made all the more appealing by all three participants.

Barbara Bonney sings and acts the perfect Sophie: pert at first, then blossoming vocally and dramatically into a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Anne Howells sings and acts a reliable Octavian, lanky, agile, and funny in his several encounters with Auge Augland’s bumbling, fumbling ox of an Ochs.

The supporting roles are all evenly cast, from Dennis O’Neill’s Italian Singer to Robert Tear’s Valzacchi to Jonathan Summers’ Faninal.

Long in precision and perhaps short on inspiration, Georg Solti leads a solid performance never coloring too far outside the lines.

As a record of one of the iconic performances of the role of the Marschallin, the Opus Arte DVD is invaluable.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Wanted: Female Symphony Conductor

Something is happening in the world of concert music, and it is a very positive change. If only it took less time to happen!

A baby boomer generation of female conducting pioneers is being followed by a new group of women, many American trained, others American-born that should be stepping up onto podiums in the United States and abroad to carry the tradition of their predecessors.

Women conductors have for some time now been invited to appear as guests at symphony orchestras here and abroad, among them Portugal’s Joanna Carneiro, Mexico’s Alondra de la Parra, Taiwan’s Mei-Ann Chen, America`s Karina Canellakis, France’s Laurence Equilbey, Denmark’s Maria Balstude, Hong Kong’s Elim Chan, South Korea’s Han-na Chang and Eun Sun Kim, Lithuania’s Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Finland’s Susanna Mälkki and Dalia Stasevska, Germany’s Ruth Reinhardt, Italy’s Speranza Scappucci, New Zealand’s Gemma New, Austria’s Katharina Wincor, and Colombia’s Lina González-Granados.

Some of these women are in their thirties and early forties, old enough to have acquired substantial conducting experience and mature enough to lead their own ensembles. A few have been appointed to lead symphony orchestras here in America, though most of them have gotten the best assignments in Europe, where physical proximity between countries makes guest appearances away from their home turf viable and where compensation and benefits are far better than in the United States.

Finally positive signs are starting to show. Chinese-American Xian Zhang leads the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has just appointed Nathalie Stutzmann as its next Musical Director and Principal Conductor. But that is not nearly enough.

Some, like the Cuban-born, naturalized British Odaline de la Martinez have established themselves in diversified careers encompassing teaching and or composing and or playing diverse instruments and or leading mid-sized ensembles. Such is the case with Jeri Lynne Johnson, a Black female conductor – still a rarity these days – who leads her own Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, while in Cleveland Jeannette Sorrell helms Apollo’s Fire, both self-started initiatives to create conducting work for themselves when no other conducting work was forthcoming.

By and large changes have taken place at a snail’s pace. According to the League of American Orchestras, five years ago, out of 174 American orchestral ensembles of all sizes, less than 15 were led by women. Since then little change has taken place, at least up until now. As Baltimore’s Marin Alsop and Buffalo’s Jo Ann Falletta – both in their mid to late sixties – contemplate hanging their hats, the question lingers as to whom will replace them and the soon-to-retire Cincinnati’s Louis Langrée (60), Chicago’s Riccardo Muti (80), Minnesota’s Osmo Vanska (68), three leaders of large-sized ensembles who are stepping down from their posts.

The Indianapolis, Kansas City and Salt Lake City have recently hung conducting help wanted signs. Who, one wonders will fill those openings in the upcoming seasons. Will any number of experienced female conductors be considered for those jobs?

We will soon know the answers.

Rafael de Acha            ALL ABOUT THE ARTS